Food, Water, and Energy Nexus

The research goal is to advance the fundamental science and technological components of low-head hydropower dams – dams that generally are less than 30 ft. high and generate power less than 10 MW – in order to facilitate effective fish/sediment passage while maintaining optimal operation. The contribution of the study is to develop and utilize a holistic watershed approach using a system dynamics modeling framework in order to guide the design of low-head dams that facilitate ecological flows. The proposed framework will estimate how water levels change with future climate shifts and different operating schemes of the reservoirs. The end goal will be to maximize the sum of hydropower and ecological benefits. This research can become a launchpad between UTK, ORNL, and Natel Energy for designing, modeling, and testing prototype beaver-dam-inspired, low-head structures for energy production at the UTK Hydraulics and Sedimentation Lab.


Critical Zone Observatory for Intensively Managed Landscapes

Intensively managed landscapes, regions of significant land use change, serve as sources of economic prosperity. However, the intensity of land use change is responsible for unintended deterioration of our land and water environments. The Intensively Managed Landscapes-Critical Zone Observatory (IML-CZO) aims to understand the present-day dynamics of this change in the context of long-term natural coevolution of the landscape, soil, and biota. The CZO will enable us to assess the short- and long-term resilience of the crucial ecological, hydrological, and climatic “services” provided by the Critical Zone, the “skin” of the earth that extends from the treetops to the bedrock. An observational network of three sites in Illinois, Iowa, and Minnesota that capture the geological diversity of the low-relief, glaciated, and tile-drained landscape will allow for novel scientific and technological advances in understanding the Critical Zone. The IML-CZO will also provide leadership in developing the next generation of scientists and practitioners and in advancing management strategies aimed at reducing the vulnerability of the system to present and emerging trends in human activities.


Coupled Natural Human Systems

In the U.S. Midwest, about eighty-three percent of the agricultural landscape is devoted to a corn-soybean rotation with the primary goal of producing sufficient food, feed, and fiber for a growing population. Yet as a human enterprise, agriculture is fundamentally a social endeavor, shaped by human values, market forces, and socioeconomic policies. In that context, the Midwestern corn-soybean ecosystem should not be limited to the role of a food-feed-fiber provider, but it should also contribute to a broader spectrum of environmental, health, and economic services such as improved air, soil, and water quality, as well as agro-technological innovations, like genetically modified crops and improved conservation practices, and alternative energy sources, including biofuels. In Iowa, ongoing and projected climate shifts (e.g., increases in extreme events such as floods and droughts) coupled with intense agriculture activities (e.g., increased demands for food and biofuel production) have prompted a re-examination of how regional ecosystems respond to changes in climate, economics, and policy, as well as the dynamic interactions between natural and human systems in a continuously evolving rural system.


NASA Experimental Project to Stimulate Competitive Research

Our vision for the Iowa NASA EPSCoR project is to build research capacity within the state to quantify the links between net greenhouse gas emissions, soil carbon, land use, and environmental impacts while building a program of national stature in the study of carbon cycle in intense agricultural systems. Greenhouse gas mitigation through agriculture management practices such as no-till cultivation is assumed as a viable option. But the implications of agriculture management practices (till vs. no-till) on carbon fluxes are highly uncertain and not well understood.

The University of Iowa and its partners is very well positioned to address agricultural carbon cycle questions though an EPSCoR program. The program will offer unique student opportunities, position the grant team for long-term extramural funding, and leverage several existing observational and computational assets. These include the NSF-supported Clear Creek Amana Hydrologic Observatory, atmospheric carbon transport models in use at the University of Iowa, the recently installed tall tower observatory 15 km from Iowa City, and the long-term, field observations at the NLAE sites.


Clear Creek and Critical Zone Exploratory Network

The critical zone of the earth extends from the top of the tree canopy to the bottom of our drinking water aquifers, which is where we humans, and all terrestrial life on earth thrive. To address the research needs within the critical zone, groups of scientists have formed observatories to monitor and study the key processes that shape the critical zone and all life in it. One such network is the Critical Zone Exploration Network (CZEN), in which Clear Creek is currently an Affiliated US Field Site. Additionally, Clear Creek is an International Critical Zone Observatory in the Soil Transformations in European Catchments (SoilTrEC). The aims of SoilTrEC are to address the priority research areas identified in the European Union Soil Thematic Strategy and to provide leadership for a global network of Critical Zone Observatories (CZO) committed to soil research.


Bedload Research International Cooperative

Bedload research has lagged behind suspended load research due in part to the highly complex processes involved which are characterized by large spatial and temporal variability. Although some progress has been made in terms of the development of instruments and measuring techniques for monitoring bedload transport, the progress is slow and many longstanding problems associated with bedload measurement and prediction still persist. In general, bedload research is usually underfunded and there is often a lack of adequate local and institutional scientific support. Hence, although some data exists, they are fragmented with limited access. The Bedload Research International Cooperative (BRIC) was therefore formed recently to facilitate progress in bedload research by providing an international focal point where scientists and engineers engaged in bedload research could better communicate and collaborate on issues related to methods development, instrumentation and data sharing. It is envisioned that information compiled and disseminated through BRIC will fill critical gaps in our knowledge of bedload processes and measuring techniques.